Narelle Helmer Woods at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Courtesy of Narelle Helmer Woods)
Narelle Helmer Woods is one of the many current and former members of the military who report having been sexually assaulted on the job.

After graduating from the University of Colorado-Boulder, Woods, who’s also from Boulder, served in the Marine Corps. She was with a prestigious unit in Washington, D.C., when she says she was raped by her supervisor, a major in the Marines.

Woods tells her story in a film called “The Invisible War,” about sexual assaults in the military. And she talked about the issue at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder last week.

The Pentagon has called its ongoing problem of sexual assaults a “cancer” within the ranks. The Department of Defense estimates that about 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2012, the last full year for which statistics are available. Reports of such incidents have plagued the armed forces for years. One of the most notable examples occurred at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., according to a 2003 Department of Defense investigation.

The investigation found that incidents of sexual assault at the Academy resulted from "...the failure of successive chains of command over the last ten years to acknowledge the severity of the problem.”

How to address the problem has become a big issue on Capitol Hill. In late 2013 Congress passed incremental reforms, but in an extensive interview, Woods tells Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner that much more needs to be done to bring about a real culture change.